Thursday, December 30, 2010

A (Final) Part Three: Reflections


So, I'm not opposed to reflection (I'm a writer-- I LOVE reflection, especially when paired with the modifier "self") but rather I admit; I hate the way the 31st of December has been marked as the end of one era and the beginning of the next. As I write these lines, those who produce diet plans and offer gym memberships are wringing their hands in anticipation of the onslaught of New Year's Resolutioners who have decided to step into the abyss of 2011 a new wo/man. Or the companies which sell patches laced with nicotine for the myriad smokers who want to make 2011 a puff-free year are gearing up for record sales come 1/1/11.  So what's my deal? I'm opposed to neither goal. By all means, get in shape! Kick your bad habit! Carpe diem until you can't carpe diem anymore.

But therein lies the rub as Monsieur Shakespeare would say. Seize the day, carpe diem means. Not Seize December 31st. Seize the day. Each day. Each moment. Hold it. Live it. Breathe it.
I didn't start running again because of a New Year's resolution. I didn't apply to writing programs because of one, either. I suppose because it has always seemed silly to me to withhold my desires for one day a year... why wait to do what you want to do if you can do it now?  If you want a new body, well, what's stopping you from working for it today? If you want to stop smoking, then take that first step... now. Putting off a dream is not living it. And not living it means you're still thinking about it and probably are unhappy because you lack what you want. Why not have what you want and leave the lacking to someone else? 

Maybe that's the brat in me talking, but it seems to make a sort of sense, or more sense than all these ads I hear on the radio and see on the television (which I watch while I do my core exercises. That way I get stronger while remaining somewhat connected with the world outside.) Perhaps people need a ceremony of sorts to kick of a lifestyle change (and nothing is quite like a drunken sendoff, something nearly everyone learns on the eve of their 21st birthday). But I wonder: Why 2010 versus 2011? Why not now versus then? Is it less meaningful to change your life on say, July 14th than it is to change it on December 31st? I think it would be more meaningful. Just think: if you had made that positive life change back when you started hankering for it, you'd be ready for another change right now! So that's two goals in the space of one calendar year in lieu of just one. 

I've got resolution on the brain, however, for a reason. Despite my little rant, this time of year (sigh) does make me think about the parts of my life that are lacking. Parts I don't think about much because I'm busy running miles, writing papers, reading books and setting small kitchen appliances on fire (not purposefully. But it happens.)  I should take my car in to the mechanic even though I know he'll make me fix things that aren't broken. I should organize my books alphabetically in the office. I should revise my novel. I should find a part time job. Why don't I do these things? Well, to be brutally honest it's because I'd rather be running miles and writing. I don't need a resolution. I need resolution. Or, to use a more common word, self-discipline.  And guess what? Discipline comes from practice and practice comes from living your life a certain way day in and day out. There's no easy fix, and no "make one wish and your dreams come true." The important things in life take years to accomplish. As they should. You hold on to them tighter that way. 

But all that being said: Hippocrates makes a useful counterpoint. Change isn't something we fight, exactly. Change is all around us, constantly. The world is based on change. The change of seasons, of days and the hour. He wrote that one can never step into the same river twice; and so it is with life. Resolutions are silly because it is the nature of existence to change. You will. It is inevitable. I am not exactly the same person I was last year at this time. I have changed. My home as changed location. My job has changed from selling clothing to attending graduate school. My cat has grown larger. My bank account, smaller. The love inside my heart for my family has just about exploded. And, for now, I'm running. 

That too, I know, will change. But my resolution-- or discipline-- is that I won't stop. Not now, at least. I have a marathon to qualify for. A life to live that demands each and every day be seized, loved and as it passes into oblivion, released. 

And most importantly, remembered.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Running through the holidays (2)

Before I began running, I never really noticed roads before. I mean, of course I noticed them. Hard not to when one uses roads to drive on. But I never actually, you know, noticed them. Noticed the width of their shoulders (or the existence of a shoulder), the way it sloped up or down, the amount of traffic or desolation and I hardly ever noticed road signs.  I don't mean this post to be some sort of warning ("My goodness," you might think, "she never noticed stop signs?" though I will admit that when asked in my first literary theory class what I do at a four-way stop intersection with no one else around, I might "stop" in only in the sense of a gesture toward what the verb implies. The tires would still roll, just a bit more slowly. I mean, honestly, if no one else is around to see you, does the stop sign really mean stop? But that is a philosophical question for another day. Today, the topic du jour is roads. And I'm not digressing. Not one bit.)

Are roads only noteworthy for what you can hit on them?


Roads are not only noteworthy for where they take you, I've found, but also for what you can run over when you're driving on them. A few days ago, for instance, my mom and I drove south of Smith Valley toward Sweetwater along the Sweetwater Range. We were warned to watch for bucking bulls, deer, docile cows and cyclists. We saw none of these, but as I looked at the shoulder of road (imagining miles I'd run there, perhaps) and the majestic landscape behind it, the signs struck me as ludicrous. First, I suppose, because we saw none of the advertised fare: no cyclists, bulls, cows or deer happened along the highway that particular day. It made me wonder what event(s) had inspired their placement. Had there been a day in which a profusion of bulls bucked their way across the tiny two-lane road? Or a slaughter of black and white heffers en route to another patch of grass that had an unfortunate run in with a series of semi-trucks delivering groceries? Such a thing is hard to imagine: the landscape is arid and vast; it's all sky and horizons with little to distract the viewer in the foreground. (Besides, I'm not sure trucks use the road at all-- to and from whence would they deliver?) But it was also strange in a larger sense: are such signs germane to all roads, or only some? I'm searching my memory but I'm coming up short of road signs I see warning of the various people and animal objects I might hit. For one, I've never seen a sign of a running person. Now, you'd think that would be one worth having.

But no. I never saw one of those, though I might suggest it if I ever settle in Smith, NV an unlikely event, though I do have to admit, possible, especially after seeing the following road sign on the highway which leads one away from Wellington:
Yes, that's a turkey. 

It displays a wild turkey in silhouette against the bright yellow background. It's an odd sight for rural Nevada where I never knew one could see a wild turkey. Had this sign been placed along Saint Mary's Road in Moraga, I would have nodded my head and thought: "Well, that makes sense" because there are turkeys in Moraga. They act like undergraduate students (hanging out on campus, looking for scraps of food and holding up traffic when one is in need of the only vacant parking spot left.) But in Wellington, Nevada, it's an odd sight. Or, to put it a better way-- the only turkey you're likely to see is the one on this sign. Luckily for me, this time I saw it. 

Another which struck me as odd on my travels was this one: 

That's a person on a tractor. I don't know which is stranger: the image in its entirety or the fact that the person has a cowboy hat on. Why not a cap? Why a hat at all? 

I mean: does one need warning not to hit a person on a tractor? I think they covered that when I took my driving test: one doesn't run over another vehicle. Also: who would drive anything beefy enough to run over a tractor? You'd have to have a monster truck and a serious mean-streak. 

The best of them all, however, was the next one. My mom and I had been driving for a while, taking shots of the sunset. I told her about my run that very morning and how surprised I'd been that one of the local ranches left their entire flock of sheep out to pasture in a pasture sans fence. As I ran by on the single-lane road, I told my mom I had been worried I'd start a sheep-stampede. 

"Nah," she said, "They were out there-- the sheep dogs and the farmers.  They watch them. Keep them safe." 

"You know," I said. "If they have all these other signs, they really ought to have a sign for sheep. They have a bull sign, a cow sign, a turkey sign, a tractor sign. But sheep are volatile. Why aren't they concerned about the sheep?" 

I couldn't have scripted it better. Before us loomed another yellow sign. 

"Another cow," I guessed. 

"How can you say that's a cow?" she asked. I could tell she was excited. 

I looked again.  "Cow. Definitely cow." 

"No, that's a sheep. Totally a sheep." 

"Cow."

"Sheep."

We pulled to the shoulder to take a closer look.

"See, it's a sheep." my mom said. And it was:

A sheep. Alas, they care about those too out here. Funny, we were so struck by the presence of a sheep sign, we did, momentarily, not watch the road. 

Once I came back to Tahoe, I began noticing others. Signs of bears. Bear signs, I've found, display a larger bear (the Momma Bear, I believe) leading a smaller bear (the baby bear) behind her. It's a large sign. In Tahoe we have leaping deer in lieu of walking ones. Cyclists, again, though I still think (despite my brief foray into distance cycling back in 2009 that riding in the Truckee River corridor (or one section of it anyway between Alpine Meadows and Tahoe City) is a death wish.  But nowhere have I seen a sign for runners. 

I think someone out there should make one. I mean: if one must be on the lookout for nonexistent (or rare) turkeys, shouldn't one also look out for us brave souls who pound out the miles, day after day, on the shoulders many a highway? I say yes. But then, what do I know? I'm the one who, until recently, ignored the road signs. 

But 300 + miles of driving and 75 + miles of running this past week seems to have started me thinking. It's time for a runner sign.  Don't run us over, world. We belong on the roads too, on those narrow margins where earth, horizon and sky stretch for miles and miles. 


Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Gift this Year: Coming Home (1)

A shot of the distant Sweetwater Range, about 20 miles south of my mom's home in Smith Valley, Nevada.


In the weeks following my most recent marathon, I’ve come home(s) for Christmas break. Two weeks and a distance of a mere 300 miles to cover-- but in this, figures can be deceiving. Though only a mountain range or so away from my new residence in the East Bay of California, Nevada is another world altogether. Today, for instance, I woke with the 23-lb cat, Meow, on my chest and an easy 10.7 mile run which wound its way around alfalfa fields, flocks of sheep and donkey, and of course, the requisite quarter or pack horse. It’s a landscape  I nearly forgot in my undulating hills of the East Bay-- here, there are expanses which stretch to the base of a towering horizon of snowy mountain peaks. It’s all extremes: the flatness of the sage and alfalfa-covered valley, framed around and up 
by jagged peaks, seemingly purple at their bases fading to a snowy white at their peaks. 


Running is not so much up and down, but a gradual move in either direction with that ever-distant horizon in the distance, becoming neither near nor far, but always remaining there, a boundary, perhaps. When I came back from my 70 minute run, my mom and I made cookies-- Vienese crescents and a simple butter cookie called “Melting Moments”-- both we’ve made together since I can remember, which is to say a long time-- after the divorce but before the second marriage, before my sister, before Smith Valley, before a lot of other places you’ve probably never heard of ending in comma Nevada.

 Then we took a drive around the valley--Smith Valley-- so she could show me this place of beauty she calls home.  We stop at the only bar in a hundred miles (OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little), a place called CG’s, once owned by Basque emigrants that my mom and dad once frequented back before me, when they were married. They would exchange beer memorabilia (mirrored, framed, antique signs) and meals with the barkeep that he'd cook for them there, at the bar. But he’s not there anymore. So much, she said, has changed.



She told me she fell in love with Smith Valley, then, when she was my age. She recalled asking my Dad if there was any property for sale. I don’t know why exactly they never moved here-- though I seem to think that the lack of much to do aside from ranching had something to do with it since they both worked as card dealers in the casinos in Reno at the time-- but nonetheless, my mom always loved Smith. And how she’s here. There’s a beautiful symmetry in that. 

Of course, nothing remains as it once was: old CG’s-- with its 19th century bar back and local character-- burned to the ground long ago. The Local Mercantile-- across the street from CG’s-- also burned, leaving only its foundation as a trace. Now, there isn’t much in what’s now called Wellington, Nevada: this new bar. A Basque restaurant that’s expensive and only open on weekends. A construction firm whose buildings and equipment have seen better days. A bakery run from a resident’s home.  

Smith is the other town in Smith Valley. There, there is a post office and dentist. A Middle/High School for the handful of young people who live here. I ran a 10k which began at the school back in 2007. I’ll never forget a young man from ROP (Right of Passage-- a high school/correctional facility in the desert for those who commit crimes in childhood; they often ran against my high school team and nearly always, always, beat us) who asked me how I’d become so fast. I’d passed him early in the race and he never caught up. The question touched me, I guess, because as a high school girl who wanted to be a runner, I always looked up to the ROP boys because they were so fast. Back in 2007, our situations were reversed (though I was not incarcerated for any crime.) I was the fast one and he looked up to me. What did I say? I said: Training and Belief. I wish I could have said more.  With the perspective that comes with coming home for the holidays, I’ve learned that YES it’s training and YES it’s belief. But it’s also love-- the love of where you come from and the love that comes from where you come from. 

I am so happy I was able to make the drive here. Tahoe, I’ve heard, is still covered in snow and more continues to fall. But here, the sun is out and there isn’t much whiteness on the ground. There’s just us surrounded by this vastness, holding my mom and I together like we were for so long years ago. 

We are the same, but we are different. Weeks ago, my grandmother (my mom’s mom) passed away. She was such a strong woman that despite her years, it was a shock. We have been sharing memories. My mom’s are more poignant than mine-- so much so that I don’t know if I can give them their proper expression in my writing. I only know that I feel my grandmother most with me when I run. I remember when I was growing up, and hating myself (“why am I so fat?” etc) that my grandmother would say to me: “Be grateful that you have two eyes that can see and two ears that can hear, and a mouth which speaks clearly....” and she would enumerate all my strengths to me, that, as a child, I was too stubborn to hear. But while I was running this most recent race, I recall hearing her voice at mile 2-26: “You have legs that can run, so run!”

And so, this is what I mean when I say I owe the love I feel for home and the love home feels for me as a major contributor to my progress toward my goal of competing in the Trials.  Home: Nevada. My mom who loves these expanding horizons, and these large spaces. It means hope, she says. 

And perhaps that’s where I get it from. The horizon means hope and there are horizons in every direction you look here.

Me in a cowboy hat in front of the local watering hole. Who would have thought it's in my blood?

Monday, December 20, 2010

The wind has changed direction; it's all hope from here.

A photo of the yard taken this morning. They say snow for five more days. 

I had a conversation with my coach this morning. He said it's time for a tempo run tomorrow. I will have to find my car-- nothing but a white mound-- and drive to Reno. Ah, but to run fast again. I am ready. After 70 miles last week on a treadmill, I am ready for the cold air on my face and memory of miles past. 

Snow is the metaphor for unbearable sadness, a friend of mine said in an email, which is funny because I just wrote an essay called "Snow" which is-- to put it vaguely-- about inexpressible sadness. My friend is currently in the midwest. I find it so interesting that we are on such similar mental wavelengths even while being so far apart. I can't wait to see her again this next semester. 

And to be out of this snow! My mom called me in tears because she hasn't seen me yet. I will make the drive, I want to make the drive. I wish there was some way I could do the distance on foot; I would. For now, though, it's more immobile miles. 10 or so on the treadmill with a growing ball of belief that I will come back from this race, recovered and better for taking it easy in the snow. 

The snow of sadness may also be the snow of hope. But--again-- for now, all I have are the miles.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

So many new things, I should name this post, simply: NEWS

While encased in snow, it's hard to believe all the amazing changes that have come to pass. I've been reticent about them because, well, I was afraid of offending certain people. But then I realized those people don't read my blog, so-- hot damn!-- I'm going to tell you all about them.

I have a new coach. I met him courtesy of a fellow runner I ran with at the Run for Peace 10k in Berkeley months ago (which really wasn't a 10k, if you recall.) Ethan turned out to be a sports marketer, and following my 2:47 performance, put me in touch with a coach in the bay who thinks I have the talent to be a force in the sport of long distance running. He sent me references (written by a 3000 meter steeplechaser from Kenya) and set up meetings to discuss training regimens with me. He looked over my logs. My medical history. Carl, in other words, really wants to coach me. I've never had a coach look at me in such detail before. I have to admit: I'm excited.

I will join his group which includes two other female runners hoping to make the 2012 Trials. One is a 17-minute 5k runner. The other has a fast half marathon time. Though our strengths are varied, we will push each other toward this goal. I haven't trained with anyone ever, so I have to admit, I'm excited about this aspect of it, too. 

The only thing I'm not excited about is this weather. The storm has descended, dumped and made room for another bout of snow up here in the Sierra. I had hoped to visit my family, but I simply can't drive in this muck. I ran 11 miles yesterday on the treadmill; and I guess I'll do something similar today. I admire those of you who can run on the treadmill with ease. I can't ever seem to fall into a rhythm on them. I wonder if this is because I lack a rich inner life. (That sentence just made me laugh. I recall the first time I was rejected by MFA programs in creative writing, I told myself it was because I lacked a "rich inner life." Well, it seems even after five years and 2 MAs and enrollment in an MFA, I still lack a "rich inner life." In fact, I'd argue I have less of one than I did before. I mean, this is what I think about: Running. Writing. The cats. A lovely iron teapot I can't stop thinking about. And then it's back to running again.) 

But maybe a "rich inner life" is just that: thinking about the things which drive you. Thinking about training has had nothing but a positive effect on my life. So, rich or no, I'll keep thinking about it and I'll keep treadmill training while the snow falls and falls. Besides, such training guarantees that, even without a rich inner life, I will have a strong inner strength, which is perhaps more important in this life which gives (a coach and training partners) and takes (covering trails and sidewalks in snow.)

I could not have been given a better holiday present: a coach named Carl.  Thank you, Universe. 

And now, the miles. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hello treadmill, my old friend. I've got to run on you again.


Tis the season of post-marathon blues. I should have known it would hit a bit harder this year, given the momentum I had driving me through this last race, only to have final papers to turn in and a trip back home to begin my holiday season.

I'm in Tahoe-- a layover of days before I descend into Smith Valley-- watching as the world turns a dismal gray with snow. 

Snow. 

Snow hiding the evergreen tree line. Snow covering every conceivable place to run. Cold, frigid snow.

I'm brought back to last year about this time when I re-started my running career on a treadmill in the local gym. The memory came back because I stepped on that very treadmill today with considerably more mileage on my legs and many more memories. I have so much to be thankful for... mostly not having to run on a treadmill for the entire winter season ahead of me! 

It's hard for me not to get depressed this time of year. And even harder now that I'm returning "home"-- the places I struggled to run in once. Being in the bay has spoiled me. Never once in this training cycle did I feel sub-freezing air on my skin. Flurries in my eyes and hair. Puddles, maybe, but it's OK to get wet once in a while. :)



It hasn't been all dismal-doom, however. We put up a tree, hung our decorations. Jacques, the cat, took part, donning a Santa hat (OK, I helped with that a little :) ) but not minding so much. 

And though things are going well-- no post-race injury to speak of-- I can't help but worry about the years and miles to come. Despite the holidays, which mean time to spend with my family (which I haven't seen since August before I left for Saint Mary's College), this slight glumness on my part has me worried: what happens when this running life is over? Maybe by then I will be more mature and ready to handle life on its own without this crutch of constant motion.

I suppose it's premature to think of that now-- to worry about possibilities that are not yet realities. I am so grateful for what I have achieved and for what lies immediately ahead: a visit to my family, a race in February and all the miles to get me there.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Part II: Clarification

What a week! I revised and turned in two final papers and have been recovering rather quickly from the race. I'm not so sore anymore (though the day after Steve kept asking me if walking was really OK); but I notice the punch in my legs is gone for now and so it will remain, I imagine, through the holidays. 


Many wonderful colleagues and friends read my blog last weekend, watching my progress. When I returned to Moraga-- to campus-- they asked me, almost unanimously-- so: did you make it? I didn't realize I was unclear in what I had written, but given how I was (and am) feeling about my results, I suppose I was-- and am--unclear. So, I decided to clarify a few points, before moving forward. 


1. I did not qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials. I have to run a 2:46 (or faster) to meet the B Standard Qualifying time. At CIM a week ago, I ran a 2:47. So close, I know, but close doesn't count in this sport of time.


2. I have a year ahead of me to qualify. In all likelihood, this will involve running a marathon in late spring/early summer. The marathon for the Olympic Trials will be in January, 2012 in Houston. 


3. I'm ecstatic I ran a 2:47. Or, outrageously happy. I can't believe I did it. A recent running-facebook-friend of mine voiced astonishment that I'd only run four races in 2010 leading up to this one.... I suppose a "real" elite athlete would have run more; or, would have known their fitness level leading into a race of this importance. I didn't know. I had no idea. I had the belief that I could (sort of) pull of a 2:46 but it was tinged with doubt. The fact that I came so close (and felt so good doing it) is simply astonishing to me. I'm so excited for this next training cycle because I have learned so much. Next time around, I will shatter 2:46.


4. Yes, I'm elite now. The word means so many things to different people, but I'm of the school that if you run a 2:47 marathon in three years of training, that's elite. Granted, Goucher's 2:20 something NYC marathon is elite, too. Super-elite. Uber-elite. Yet, I call myself elite as a mark of pride for my accomplishment. I worked hard. I'm almost there. Elite, je suis. Vraiment


5. Thank you, all of you, who have followed this. I can't fathom what is compelling about my life or what I've done; I've tried to be the best I can possibly be. For the most part, I've come up short of what I've hoped for. And yet, and yet: I will not give up. I will not stop. I wish there was some way I could convey how much your interest, your encouragement and your love means to me.   If it was not for you, I would not have accomplished what I have. I carry you with me: each and every mile. You compel me to be better; and so I shall. For me, yes. But for you. For you. 


And so, on a final note, two links.  The first, my stats from CIM: 
http://www.flashresults.com/2011_Meets/CIM/searchind/ViewResultsMarathon.php?Bib=92&fname=rebecca&lname=eckland&city=moraga&state=&division=&sex=F&l=0&h=100


The second, a link to my first published article about running: my first attempt at a marathon back in 2007. Funny, I only wanted to finish and look how far I've come:  http://www.newsreview.com/reno/content?oid=558683




Thank you-- all of you-- for your support. And now,  as Frost would have said, I have miles to go before I sleep.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My first trials attempt, digested. Part I.

I apologize for not posting more yesterday following the race. Post race was more of a jumble than race time, in many ways. I finished, stumbled and wandered around for a good half hour looking for Steve before race officials led me to the elite area so I could change into dry clothes and stop shivering and scaring other runners and their families. And then I went back out on the prowl again. Luckily, I found my good friend, Andy, who had a cell phone. If I hadn't found him, I'd probably still be wandering around downtown Sac with a lost look on my face and sweat dried all over my face. Thank heavens for technology (funny enough, it turned out Steve was less than a hundred feet from where I was, but because of the crowd, I couldn't locate him.)


So, how does it feel not to qualify for the Olympic Trials? I wish I was Shakespeare because I'd make up a word for how I'm feeling right now. It's not bittersweet, but sweet-bitter; or maybe glorible. Fanterrorific. Splendud. (There's a reason I'm not much of a poet.) No-- I really am so proud of myself. Those were real tears-- joy-tears-- yesterday. I never ever thought I'd be able to run like this. I always pictured myself too fat. Too something or other to ever be truly great; and yet, here I am. Even at the start line, all those negative demons were sounding off their familiar refrains in my head: "You can't. You're too fat. You are not the real deal." But then, after a mile it was like: I'm going to do this. I kept telling myself that-- that I was going to do this, that I was going to run and run even, smooth miles. I would run, I would drink water, I'd eat a bit of sport gel. And then, about mile 5 or so, they started calling out paces at each mile marker. And they said: 6:22 pace. Or, 6:24 pace. And I would hear that and think: "Hot damn. I'm doing it! I'm really doing it!" 


There was a moment-- about mile 8 or so-- that I caught up to this runner wearing a sports bra and tight shorts. She looked elite. I ran alongside her for a while and asked: "So, what time are you going for?"


"Sub 2:50," she said. 


"Cool, me too!" I'd said and I had hoped she would seem excited about that. 


But she scoffed at me, as though she didn't believe what I had just said. 


We passed through another intersection. They were playing a rock and roll song with lyrics about achieving dreams I've heard before but cannot, for the life of me, recall for you (besides, I'm horrible with song titles.) But my stride matched the cadence to the song and I surged up a slight rise. "You look strong," I said to her, hoping she'd want to run the race with me. We'd go sub- 2:50 together. 


"So do you," she said.


But then she fell back and I never saw her again. 


I kept up that pace through ten miles. Through the half, where I sailed through at 1:23. One hour, twenty three minutes. I passed another woman there. I took my gloves off. I saw a little girl of about six years old holding a poster with "Believe" written across it. I was halfway through and you know, I started to believe that may there was a glimmer of a qualifying standard in these legs. 


"Just hold it, hold this pace," I said to myself. Every negative thought that entered my head (like:"your muscles are going to cramp", or "you will die at mile 20") was countered by a positive force I didn't think I had in me.  I answered each negative thought and pushed it out of my mind. To the first, I said: "keep drinking water at each station. Keep eating. You will make it." To the latter: "run to mile 20. Hold this pace. Then run faster. The race begins there."


And I tried. I got to 20, I tossed my gloves to my friend, Jim, who was standing on the side. "You look strong," he said. I felt it. Or, I felt half of it. There was an instability in my body, a pain, but I pushed it down, ignored it. I hadn't wanted to toss my gloves, because on them I'd written "Believe"-- the message I wanted to remember. I kept looking for a young girl to throw them to (I took them off around mile 12) but I didn't see anyone--- so Jim got my gloves. 


But from there, I just remember being in so much pain. But I promised my coach I'd push there. I promised myself from about mile 5 or so that no one would ever tell me I couldn't do something. I went through mile 20 at 2:07. If I ran a slightly sub-40 minute 10k, I'd have my B Standard qualifying time. 


So what happened? I held my pace, I thought. I talked myself down through the miles. Just six. You run six all the time. Then five. Five's nothing. Less than 35 minutes left. Less than it takes to bake a cake. 4 miles: just think, I said to me, the first of two mile repeats. Think of it as the first of eight miles round the track. But mile 23 for some reason was really hard. 23, I thought: this is never ending. I tried to push that thought away, but it lingered. 


Spectators yelled my number. "Go, 92!" they shouted to me. "Looking strong, 92!" I passed other runners. But my pace had slowed. My legs were fine. It was my stomach that was on fire. I wanted to puke that nasty sport gel I'd been eating for two hours now.  And then, there was that other part of me that felt like stopping at that cute little bar I just ran by for a shot or a glass of wine red wine; perhaps an Old Vine Zin. Surely if I relaxed a little bit, I would do better. 


But no, mile 23 is not the time to relax. I passed another person. Go, go, go, I whispered to myself. Believe. Believe. You are almost there. 


I saw the tree-lined street. The 25-mile marker. I heard the lyrics: "You're beautiful... just the way you are," booming from a car stereo. I heard the passing cars on I-80 (or was it 50?) and told myself to imagine that the sound was not from cars, but from a roaring crowd, cheering me on. I kept running. One step, two step, three, four and on and on; they are cheering for you, Ms. E, for you for you for you. I passed another person, all the while hearing: "Go, 92, go go go!" I could no longer distinguish whether the voice was my own, internal one, or coming from someone looking on, feeling what I felt. 


I couldn't stop. I couldn't show my pain. I've been writing about heroes lately, and it occurred to me then, less than a mile away from finishing, that heroes feel pain but don't show it. They just swallow, smile and take what other people can't. So, I kept on. No slowing down.


Speed up, I told myself. Less than one mile to go. 


I rounded the corner. I saw, on the digital display, that I had crushed a sub-2:50 time. 


2:47. OMG. I sprinted that final straightaway. 2:47. One minute away. Yet 3 minutes faster than what I thought I was capable of doing. They announced my name. My time. I stopped, but it was like my brain was still moving and I stumbled, disoriented. 2:47. 2:47. 


I'm an elite now. 


So close. I was so close. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Carpe diem, what I did today.

video
Me at mile 10 or so of the race. 

Here I am; post marathon. Alive. Well. Happy. 

Did I qualify? 

Friends: I was close, so so close. I arrived at the start line with a sharp pain in my foot and thinking: "Oh God. Just let me finish. Just let me finish." And then I began running. And the runners pushed me forward. I kept checking my Garmin that first mile: too fast. Too slow. I was disjointed and jostled; pushed and pulled. My first mile was a 6:40.  And that's the moment when I really thought: this is going to be a long, long day. 

But something in my body settled and I was off. I pushed away all that negativity and was simply running. I want write more, but I'm so high from the 26 miles of endorphins all I write now will probably be syrupy-sweet. I can tell you this was the first race which made me cry at the end. I crossed the line and the tears came. The medics came and asked if I was OK. 

I choked: "Yes. Yes. I'm happy."

Here are my stats: 

Time: 2:47 (6:25 average pace) 
Place in age: 7
Place in sex: 20
Place Overall: 131/12,000


Saturday, December 4, 2010

# 92 has arrived

Me, nervous as hell, typing next to the Christmas tree in the lobby. 


It's raining. A lot. But that's not how the day started out. 

This was the first time I've been to an pre-race Expo alone since 2007 when I drove down to South Tahoe to pick up my race packet for my first marathon ever, the Lake Tahoe Marathon. Since, I've always had someone else with me: some one to do the driving (but more importantly, the parking) someone else to lead me through the crowds, someone else just as confused as I am, someone to tell me I was going to just fine the next day. But not this year. Today I found myself in a minor panic while sitting in a chair by the door as people came and went. So many people. So many runners. So many bodies, no two alike. Running bodies. Not-so-running bodies. Young and old; and all there for the same reason I was: to run 26.2 miles tomorrow. But so many bodies! So many stories and me just one among many. It's easy to doubt when you're all alone like that in a crowd. 

It's also easy to wonder why you thought this was a good idea-- this whole marathoning thing-- when the first table you stop to talk to says: "I have perfect weight loss program for you" (as if running 70 miles a week wasn't enough.) Or when you go up to the table where the Elite numbers are and the lady working there directs you away even though you know you are supposed to be there (I say: I'm #92. Look at your list. She said: No. You get your number over there [pointing]. This is for elites only. I say: I am an elite. Number 92. That's me. She said: Oh. Me (internally): Grrrr.) And so after that I sat down and waited. I wanted to let the moment sink in-- this moment I realized I was going to be running a very long race tomorrow with obstacles worse than the ones I found at this expo. A very long race. And what looks like will be a wet day.

But you know: it's funny. It seems just as soon as I'm ready to panic, the universe sends a little ray of light down to say "Yo! Rebecca! Turn that frown upside down" (or something like that. I'm sure the Universe isn't as dorky as I am.)  A familiar face. Faces: the NSET (Northern Sierra Endurance Training) crowd I raced with this past summer. And then my phone vibrated against my thigh to let me know Steve had arrived. 

And so I'm in Folsom now in the hotel. A few hours ago I watched dusk fall into darkness. I pinned my race number to my shirt, attached the timing chip to my right shoe and set out everything I'll need to put on my body tomorrow morning "before-bright early." I've done the inventory countless times: shirt, shorts, shoes, socks, number, timing chip, Garmin, arm warmers, gloves, headband, racing flats, sweats. Then I have another bag packed for the finish line with another set of clothes and shoes so I don't freeze to death afterward.  

It's the stuff I can't set out that has me worried. Confidence. Speed in my legs. Faith. 

Steve and I went out to pasta and we joked about just throwing in the towel and downing shots of Jager. But that's not what we did: I ate pasta. I drank more water. This time with lemon in it. I smiled and tried to joke. But I think he knows: I'm nervous. 

And the rain! This might be cruel payback for having the protagonist of my novel (my thesis from the M.A. in English in 2009) run a marathon in sheets of rain. (My turn, she says from her fictional world. Now you see how it really feels.)

But I can't focus on that now. Any of that. For now, I have to keep drinking water. Breathing. Remaining calm and relaxed. I have to picture myself running strong; feeling each step without injury. Breathing steady in cadence with the swing of my arms. 

When I get back to the room (I'm in the lobby now, hunkered down by the Christmas tree. There's no wifi in the room) I'll set the alarm on my watch for midnight like I do every time I race so I can wake up to drink a large bottle of electrolyte drink (so my muscles are full of glycogen for tomorrow. Or so I have been told.) 

It's funny to think the next time I'll see the sun, I'll be en route; three minutes or so into the race. That the world will be in motion, smelling fresh from all this rain, and I will be running the race it's taken me a year to prepare for. 

Running a race I've dreamed of. It's close, so very close. I hope I finish.... in time.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The night before the night before the big race

Oh heavens. It begins already: the jitters. The feeling like I've had five espressos as I lay in bed at night with my heart pounding so loud and hard I swear the neighbors in the house next door can feel it though I live on the second floor and they are old and mostly indifferent to my presence. The sweaty palms- so much so the cat doesn't much like to be pet, preferring to remain as dry as he can. And the thoughts of "Yes, it's here, finally and at last" competing with "Oh God. What have I done?"


Ah, the marathon jitters. Nothing quite like them. I'm actually surprised, however. I've been able to sleep most nights this week and my dreams have been void of racing scenes. Last night, I dreamt of bears: bears breaking into the house to eat me. And I didn't run away; I just stood there, terrified, watching those black, furry bodies approach. Sigh. Maybe dreaming of the race would be better. 


I ran five miles today-- just to shake my legs out-- and followed up with light, easy strides. The sky was gray, the air crisp and the final leaves of fall still clinging to the trees. I averaged 6:47 pace and felt as though I was hardly moving. It was easy, my breathing practically nonexistent. My aches are both amplified and muted; my thoughts, the predictable insanity: "WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING; I can do this, I can breathe, just keep a pace hold a pace OMG. IT'S HERE. MY MOMENT. Relax. Breathe. AHHHHH!"


I'm hydrated. So hydrated. I'm drinking so much water-- more water than I can remember drinking in a long time. I can't drive anywhere. Just a trip to the store and I almost didn't make it in time. I hope I'll be able to drive to Sacramento tomorrow; I need to pick up my race number (92) and visit the expo, one of my favorite things to do.


Actually, this is going to make me sound odd: but I have a strange adoration of running Expos. Of course, none approach what I experienced in Boston (where I met Kathrine Switzer-- the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon in 1960) . But it's fun to visit all the little tents to try out whatever crazy thing someone's trying to market to runners these days. Sport gels. Peanut butters. Shoes. There's shoes EVERYWHERE. I'm always tempted to buy them (not for the race. That would be an awful idea) but I do love running shoes. I would have a pair for every day of the week, if I was not a lowly graduate student. Shoes that match each running outfit. Shoes for trails. Shoes for the track. Shoes for going out that can also double as running shoes in case I decide to do that instead of sauntering into the bar. Shoes that make me taller. Shoes that make me faster. Oh, shoes. Sometimes I think I chose this sport because of my love of its required footwear. 


So the question is: can I relax one more day? I think all this nervous energy comes from running so consistently (70-80 miles a week) and now I'm down to 44. I mean, 5 miles?? That's only 34 minutes out of my day, leaving another 23.5 for me to figure out what to do with myself. Sure, there's final papers to write and stretching to do and the requisite afternoon nap: but it seems as though I'm one of those cartoon renderings of a fat Roman man , stretched out in a toga upon a lounge while being fed grapes by an attractive woman. Which, I admit, sounds pretty good: but it makes me feel guilty. And I'm not ready to be a fat, Roman man yet! I want to be a marathoner! :)


But there I go again. I have to remind myself to breathe. To focus. 26.2 miles. I'll start at 6:29 pace. Cut down at the half, run negative splits to the finish. Finish strong. Unless I feel so incredibly good that 6:25-6:20 feels OK at the start. But then I have to know right away if I can maintain that; there's no slowing down and definitely no stopping. No, once the Rebecca-train leaves the station, the deal I have made with myself is that there is no going back. Only forward and faster, step, breathe, step, breathe. 


But for now: sleep and perchance to dream of  a successful (not rainy) race day. And on that note, I have to excuse myself. I am, as I said, so very well hydrated.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Preparing for battle.

Like a warrior paints his/herself for battle, I too engage in body marking:here are my arm warmers for CIM 2010-- messages I hope someone out there will yell at me between miles one and twenty-six.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The race plan for 2010

A year is both a long period of time and a blink of an eye. I can't believe it's been nearly a year since I crawled onto a treadmill in little Tahoe City for five mile runs at 8 minute per mile pace with the feebly rekindled desire to try and qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon event. I was crazy, I think now that I'm three days away from the race I had hoped would change my life. I admire that craziness, that spark which kept me coming back, day after day, mile after mile despite the painful bits of skin rubbed raw between my thighs and underneath my breasts. Despite the cold and snow, despite having no one but Steve to believe in me, I trained. Despite setbacks like injury and doubt-- so much alike, I've learned-- I kept going back to that little gym, stepping onto the treadmill to train in the pursuit of this dream that is so much a part of me, I cannot imagine my life without it. 


I am Rebecca, I will say if you meet me, followed by, I am a runner. 


It's so hard, after all of that and three days away from this race I'd hoped to use as an Olympic Qualifier to acknowledge that this is not yet my time. 


I had a long conversation with my coach this evening. We agreed there is a trials qualifier in this body of mine. It might even be bubbling just beneath the surface of my ligaments and connective tissues; yet, since this training cycle has been so up and down, there's no way of knowing if my body can handle 6:20 pace for 26.2 miles.


It's so hard to write that. After all those miles.


Yet, it's honest, too.  And if I do have aspirations to compete in the Olympic Trials, I have to be brave. Brave enough to face myself as I am.  To face this face in the mirror and know who and what I truly am.  And so: today I did exactly that. I looked into the depths of me and found that this is not  yet my time. Not yet. 


I'm fitter than I have ever been. But I am also young and I have time on my side. My ultimate goal is to live the running life-- to be the absolute best I can be in this lifetime of mine. Killing myself this coming Sunday will not make me reach my fullest potential (even if I do kill myself and qualify, I am still nowhere near where I need to be in order to be considered an elite marathon runner). What I need instead of pain is to learn-- to learn how to race for 26.2 miles, to run with restraint and control. And in order to do that, my coach and I decided this Sunday I will run a conservative race. 


I will go out at 2:50 pace (6:29 x mile) and assess how I feel at the half. The goal: to run negative splits (the second half of the race faster than the first) and to have enough of my wits about me to remember this race, to remember where I pushed and where I felt like I couldn't. Where I could improve, the next time around. 


There will be a next time. 


Many next times. 


I think this is a smart choice. I will recover faster. I will-- I believe-- allow myself the opportunity to heal, to increase my weekly mileage. And I will have a year ahead of me to qualify. 


You aren't failing, my coach told me and though I know he's right, there's a part of me that's a little sad over all of this. All those dreams of "glory"-- once again deferred. But better deferred than made impossible. 


Here again the truth of long distance running is revealed to me: it's not the Hollywood version of racing that is success (the performance of a lifetime that has viewers shocked in the film's final moments.) Its instead the races over a lifetime-- with lifetime underscored. It's the truth learned from all the miles-- each and every one, no matter how quickly they are executed-- and all the races, and most importantly, all the minuscule steps of progress made along the way. 


And the knowledge I hold secure next to my heart which warms me, like a fire blazing strong: I will never stop. 


I believe. I believe in me.